Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, December 08, 2019
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Following the Spirit's Leading

Acts 16:6-15

 Let’s set the stage here for a minute as to what’s going on in this passage.  Paul is on his second journey.  At the end of his first journey, he returned to Jerusalem.  At that time, there was a “Council of Jerusalem,” a meeting of apostles and other leaders to decide how the church was going to receive Gentile believers.  There were some who wanted Gentiles to become Jews first in order to become Christians second.  But in the end, they did not lay that burden on Gentile believers.  

 On Paul’s first journey, he was accompanied by Barnabas, his co-worker, and by John Mark, who was the “apprentice,” a younger man who was learning the ropes.  But Paul wasn’t happy with John Mark.  Mark abandoned them and went home early on that first trip, so Paul didn’t want to take him again.  But Barnabas, who was Mark’s cousin, did.  In the end, they “agreed to disagree” and parted ways.  

 Silas, also known as Silvanus, became Paul’s new co-worker, and they set out to carry the news from Jerusalem.  They went through Syria and into Cilicia, which is part of modern Turkey, also known as Asia Minor.  In Lystra of Cilicia, they picked up a young man Paul had apparently met on his first trip, Timothy.  Timothy was to take the role of the apprentice.  He was the right man for the job.  He was born to a Jewish mother and a Greek father, so he was a man of two worlds.  And Paul and Silas were trying to bridge those worlds, bringing the message of Christ out of the Jewish world and into the Greek world.  

 They continued west, but repeatedly they were prevented from entering various territories by the Holy Spirit.  Now, we don’t know how that happened.  Did they receive a dream or vision? Were they given a word of prophecy?  Did they just feel a deep inner conviction that “this was not the right way to go?”  All those are ways in which the Spirit can communicate to us.

 Or maybe it was circumstances.  In his letters, Paul complained about a “thorn in the flesh,” and some have wondered if this was a chronic illness.  Perhaps an illness that forced him to go to Troas where they picked up Luke, the doctor.  You see, in verse 10, for the first time in the Book of Acts, we find the word “we” used to describe Paul’s actions.  Luke wrote the Book of Acts, and this was apparently the moment when he joined Paul, and he stayed with him through the rest of the book.  

 After getting turned aside a few times, they end up in Troas, on the western end of Asia Minor.  Troas had replaced an earlier city a few miles further north called Troy.  Yes, that Troy, the one the Greeks destroyed in the Trojan War.  When Alexander the Great set off to conquer the world, he had the city rebuilt and named it Troas.  It had an important location.  It was the western terminus of the trade routes through Asia Minor that connected Europe to the eastern lands of Parthia, India, and China.  Eventually, that route would be called the Silk Road.  

 There Paul receives a dream telling them where they should go:  Macedonia.  Macedonia was the home of Alexander the Great.  Culturally, it was very similar to its southern neighbor, Greece, which was called Achaia in the first century.  

 They sailed to Samothrace, an island in the middle of the Aegean Sea, and then on to Neapolis, which was the port at the eastern end of the Egnatian Way, the road that connected Rome to Asia Minor.  Philippi was another ten miles northwest.  It was named after Alexander the Great’s father, Philip, who had conquered Greece before Alexander became king.  Philippi was not the capital; that was Thessalonica, but it was the “first city” of that district of Macedonia.  Philippi was also a Roman colony, meaning all its citizens were also “honorary citizens” of Rome.

 On the Sabbath day, they went to the place of prayer.  Normally, the place of prayer meant the synagogue.  But there was no synagogue in Philippi.  Perhaps there were not enough Jewish families to start one.  And here the place of prayer was outside the city walls.  By law, no foreign religions were allowed to gather in Philippi, only Roman ones.  So they met on the banks of Gangites River.  When Jewish people did not have a synagogue building, they met near flowing water so that they could purify themselves for worship.

 Here they find a group of women.  These are Gentiles, not Jews.  They are “God-fearers,” meaning Gentiles who worshipped God but had not taken the step of full conversion to Judaism.  They were what we might call “seekers” today.  

 One of them was Lydia, from Thyatira, a city in the province of Asia, back in Turkey.  In ancient times, Thyatira was part of a kingdom called Lydia, which was probably her namesake.  Asia was known for its textiles, and she is a dealer in purple cloth.  Purple was the color of royalty or nobility, so it was a luxury good.  Purple dye

was developed by the ancient Phoenicians, who produced it from the shells of a certain mollusk.  It was very expensive.  Lydia was a wealthy woman, in other words.  

 Bible scholars have long wondered why there is no mention of a husband.  Greek women had a little more independence in the first century world than Jewish women, but still, it was unusual to find a woman in business by herself.  One possibility is that her husband is just not mentioned.  That’s unlikely.  A second is that her husband has died and she is carrying on the business.  The third is that she was a former slave who had worked in the purple cloth business, earned enough money to buy her freedom, and then just stayed in the business.  An independent woman, perhaps.  We don’t know, and it’s not terribly important. 

 She hears the gospel, receives it, and then welcomes Paul and his co-workers into her home.  Her home becomes the center of a new church, and the gospel gains a foothold in a new city and a new region.  All this happened because Paul and his co-workers were responsive to the leading of the Spirit.

 If we want to be effective at doing God’s will, we also must be seeking the leading of God’s Spirit.  

 Obviously, the gospel is a message for all people, so it’s not as if we can go wrong proclaiming it at any time to any person.  But it’s important to have the right messenger and the right timing to be effective.  Some people aren’t ready to hear the gospel.  And sometimes, they’re not receptive to hearing it from a certain person.  So we need to seek God’s will.  We have to be fervent in prayer and seek wise counsel about what God wants us to do. 

 But we shouldn’t miss the thing that Paul and his co-workers did:  After they received this message, they went where God was leading them, and they proclaimed God’s message to the people they found there who were seeking God.  They acted on the Spirit’s leading.

 We can fail at any point along the way.  We can fail to seek God’s direction.  We can fail to recognize God’s will.  And we can fail to act on God’s will.  But if we are faithful to hear and do God’s will, then God will be faithful and he will open hearts to receive his message and his Kingdom.  

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